Denali National Park has a plan for visitors during the winter and shoulder seasons and will hold a couple of public meetings to share the information.
The first meeting will take place from 6-8 p.m. with a presentation at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Morris Thompson Cultural Center. The second meeting is scheduled for 5:30-7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Murie Science and Learning Center in Denali National Park.
As more and more visitors come to Denali during the winter and shoulder seasons, the park is looking for ways to improve the visitor experience. A copy of the plan can be found at bit.ly/2pkyXWo.
The summer season is about 110 days. The park superintendent once referred to it as “110 days of chaos.” Now more and more people are choosing to visit during a slower time of year. That visitation has increased 350% in five years, going from 3,468 winter visitors in 2012-13 to 12,447 winter visitors in 2017-18. All those visits were from October through April.
Buses and the railroad now regularly drop off visitors at the park six days a week during the winter months, according to park officials.
Outdoor recreation planner Jennifer Johnston developed the winter/shoulder season plan for the park after holding public hearings last year to collect information from local residents.
The park already plows the Park Road to Mountain Vista Rest Area at Mile 12, beginning in February. This is intended to provide additional winter opportunities for visitors and to evaluate the impact on park resources.
What the park learned is that there is more traffic during winter, mostly private vehicles. More traffic means more impacts on wildlife, similar to summer months. The soundscape went from silent to sounds of traffic and plowing. There are also safety issues, as drivers sometimes slide off the road and get stuck. Also, cars break down. Some winter visitors may not be prepared for that to happen.
Winter visitors seem to be younger than summer visitors and not as wealthy. The majority are independent travelers and most — 72% — are there for day trips only.
The park plan provides various options for winter visitation based on this information. Should the park road be plowed all winter long? Should the park provide winter transportation into the park? Should the park provide winter public use shelters?
Read the Winter and Shoulder Season Plan and submit your comments by Nov. 15.
Reach columnist/community editor Kris Capps at email@example.com. Call her at the office 459-7546. Follow her on Twitter @FDNMKris.